Wednesday, 11 March 2015

All About Those Values

"This isn’t about the right to choose a burka over a bikini. It’s about a country’s values." So says National Post columnist Tasha Kheiriddin. This point of view has been expressed by multiple individuals, so it is a worthwhile endeavor to attempt to understand the logic and reasoning behind it.

According to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his supporters "This is a society that is transparent, open and where people are equal, and I think we find [wearing a niqab] offensive."

This line of reasoning is being used to justify the banning of a woman wearing a veil covering her face while swearing the oath of citizenship. While her face is covered, she is not being transparent and open about her intent to become a Canadian citizen. If we accept that logic, why do we wait until the Oath of Citizenship to enforce this rule? Becoming a Canadian citizen involves multiple steps where the Oath of Citizenship is the last step. If we truly value openness, transparency and honesty, a woman wearing a veil for religious or cultural reasons would be banned from the process entirely. A woman that wears a veil, specifically a niqab, would be doing so at all times as an expression of her culture and/or religion. This part of her identity would be honestly and openly conveyed to Canadian officials at all stages of the citizenship application process. Since she is being open and transparent with us, do we not owe her openness and transparency in return? Or are those values conditional, subject to our whim and only used when convenient? Denying a woman her citizenship at the very end of the process amounts to a cruel joke, perpetrated by the Government of Canada.

The thing about values is, either you believe and hold to them, or you don't.

And that leads to another problem with the values argument. Asking a woman to suspend her values for the time required to take the oath is not consistent with the values requiring her to do so. If Canadian society finds the niqab offensive, it should find it offensive at all times. Allowing a women to wear a niqab anytime except the 15 minutes required to recite an oath is turning this strongly held value of Canadian identity into a value of convenience. If the niqab is truly offensive to Canadian values such that no Canadian citizen would ever accept wearing one, then it should be banned at all times. Banning it for 15 minutes accomplishes nothing.

Correction. Banning it for 15 minutes accomplishes one thing. It degrades and embarrasses the very woman we are trying to free from oppression. If a husband and wife were to take an oath of citizenship where both of them strongly believe women must be veiled in public, the woman would be denied citizenship, but her husband would not. Because a woman expresses her belief that women must be veiled, she is punished for it. But we do not punish those that hold the belief. Even more importantly, we do not punish the misogynistic, paternalistic men that propagate this belief.

Quite frankly, banning veils during the Oath of Citizenship punishes the victim, the very person we are supposedly championing the rights of. If the niqab is so offensive to the Canadian Government that it must act through law, why are we not stripping the citizenship from and deporting the very men that preach, teach, promote, encourage and enforce the wearing of a niqab? Why do we let the offenders in and grant them citizenship, but punish the victim?

I can only conclude that banning women from wearing a veil during the Oath of Citizenship is not about protecting or helping them. It is about appeasing Canadians that don't want to be offended by "others." It is a bandage solution that harms more than it heals, and does nothing to address the root of the problem of misogynistic beliefs.

As Steph C. said on Twitter, "Last I checked, it was the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, not the Charter of Values." This gets to the heart of the matter. The Charter defines everyone's rights, even the rights of people we may see as victims of oppression. We can't stop someone from choosing oppression. What we can do is grant them citizenship and equality before the law, so that they now have the opportunity to throw off that oppression.

If they so choose to do so. Let's give them that opportunity, instead of punishing them. They are oppressed enough, we shouldn't be adding to their burden.

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